State infant mortality rate drops Recent programs cited as reason

January 09, 1993|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

Maryland's infant mortality rate, one of the nation's worst in the mid-1980s, improved significantly during the second half of the decade.

Progress became evident this week when the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation released a report that showed the state's infant mortality rate to be 20th-worst in the nation in 1990, the most recent year for which figures are available. In1987, Maryland was seventh from the bottom.

"It's due to the emphasis on prevention," said Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini, who credited programs put into effect since Gov. William Donald Schaefer took office in 1987. Among other things, they have brought free health care to thousands of pregnant women and infants who previously would have been ineligible.

Access to medical care is widely seen as a crucial element in lowering such risk factors as poor nutrition, substance abuse and problems that can cause babies to be born too small and poorly developed.

Between 1987 and 1991, the rate dropped from 11.7 deaths per 1,000 infants to 9.5 deaths. This was slightly worse than the national average of 9.2 deaths in 1990. Infant mortality is defined as deaths during the first year of life.

The March of Dimes report, based on figures from the National Center for Health Statistics, found that the national rate declined to a record low in 1990. The most dramatic improvement among the leading causes of death was in deaths due to respiratory distress syndrome -- indicating better prenatal treatment.

The national death rate among black infants (18 per 1,000 infants) was twice the rate for white infants.

In 1990, Georgia was the state with the highest infant mortality rate

(12.4). But the District of Columbia -- at 20.7 deaths per 1,000 -- ranked worst when it was included in the rankings.

Rates for metropolitan areas for 1990 have not been computed. Cities typically have higher infant mortality rates than states because of their concentration of low-income residents. In 1989, Baltimore's rate was 14.1 deaths per 1,000 infants -- down from 19.1 two years earlier.

Mr. Sabatini said much of the credit should go to a program that has extended Medicaid benefits to pregnant women who otherwise wouldn't qualify because they earn slightly too much. The program pays for prenatal care, delivery and care of infants.

Since 1987, the program has served 8,000 women and their infants, according to health department spokesman Mike Golden. Another program, called Healthy Start, provides education about health and nutrition and the advantages of breast feeding to women who are at risk for delivering a sick child.

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